Record numbers of disabled staff on NHS boards

NHS boards have more disabled members than ever before, new NHS data shows.

Published today, the Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) annual report shows disabled people make up 1 in 20 (4.8%) of voting members on NHS boards – up from 3.8% in 2021, the last time this was measured and the highest number on record.

The report also shows the chance of a disabled candidate being appointed to a job in the NHS is on par with non-disabled applicants, with the relative likelihood of appointment for disabled people improving from 1.18 in 2019 to 1.08 in 2022 – where 1 represents equity of opportunity.

A third of disabled staff have experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from patients or the public, compared to more than a quarter of non-disabled staff (25.7%).

There is a reduction in the proportion of disabled staff experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from managers, down to 17% compared to 19.4% in 2017. While one in four disabled staff experience harassment, bullying or abuse from colleagues. This has improved slightly over the past few years – now at 25% down from 26.4% in 2018 – but is still higher than non-disabled colleagues (16.4%).

The recently published NHS equality, diversity and inclusion improvement plan says that psychological support should be available for all NHS staff who have been victims of bullying, harassment, discrimination, or violence by next spring, and trusts have also been asked to set internal targets to reduce bullying, harassment, discrimination, and violence by March next year.

30% of disabled staff said they felt pressured from their manager to come to work, despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties – the lowest level for five years. This is compared with 22% of non-disabled staff.

All but one trust in England is taking action to give a platform for disabled staff to be heard. This is an improvement from 2019 when 34 trusts were not doing this.

The publication of the WDES comes after the launch of NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which set out an expansion of routes to work into the NHS as well as measures to do more to retain existing talent.

Dr Navina Evans, NHS England’s Chief Workforce, Training and Education Officer said: “This report shows some progress has been made for staff with a disability, with greater representation on NHS boards and more opportunities for disabled staff to have their voices heard at work.

“We know that the NHS is at its best when it reflects the diversity of our country and that how the NHS supports its staff can have an impact on how it treats patients, so while the latest data shows promising progress in many areas, disparities between disabled and non-disabled staff continue to exist.
“That is why as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan and our Equality, diversity and inclusion improvement plan, trusts will be expected to make the most of the talent, expertise and skill of every member of staff and take steps to address disproportionate levels of bullying and harassment”

The WDES is the fourth since it was launched in 2019, and for the first time includes intersectional data from the NHS Staff Survey, which will better support the implementation of the NHS equality, diversity and inclusion improvement plan and provide insights into any future reviews of the mandated workforce standards.

The WDES report also notes the disparity in disability declaration rates between ESR (4.2%) and the NHS staff survey (23.2%), highlighting the need for additional analysis on of both data sets.